After discovery that its namesake had ties to the Ku Klux Klan, the ball is rolling on renaming the T.T. Wentworth Museum in downtown Pensacola.
T.T. Wentworth, who contributed the most artifacts to the museum, wore many hats – businessman, Escambia County Commissioner, and tax collector – along with one hood – that of a KKK grand dragon.
“The board has authorized me as executive director to write a letter to the director of the Florida Division of Historical Resources requesting that the name be changed,” said Rob Overton with the UWF Historic Trust.
On a unanimous vote, the UWF Historic Trust Board recommended changing the name to the Pensacola Museum of History, at the University of West Florida.
“We sort of arrived at that by looking at what we were doing with the other museums downtown,” said Overton. “When the university brought in the Pensacola Museum of Art, they kept the name and added the tagline, ‘At the University of West Florida’ to show that connection. And that’s worked very well in the community.”
There’s no set timeline for completion of the work necessary to enact the change.
“The law says that the director of the Davison of Historical Resources, in consultation with the Florida Historical Commission, can recommend building name changes,” Overton said. “That’s the process; we would be sending this. It ultimately would have to go to the Florida Historical Commission.”
The state panel would hold a public hearing and if it approves, the recommendation would move to the Florida Internal Improvement Trust Fund, which holds the deed to all state properties.
Documents acquired from the Wentworth estate, revealing him as the leader of the local Klan chapter in the 1920s, were made public last summer.
“The Klan was founded here in 1920; T.T. Wentworth was a founding member and the 1st secretary of the Klan,” said Pensacola historian Tom Garner. “In 1925 he was elected Exalted Cyclops, which is the president of the Klan, and then he continued to be exalted cyclops at least until 1928. There’s no more records after 1928.”
Garner sent a letter to the Pensacola City Council, during its debate on whether to remove the Confederate monument from Florida Park on Palafox Street – the work began in October.
But Garner stresses that a new name and a toppled monument are is not the end all-be-all. If the story of what it was like to be black in Pensacola historically ends there, he says “we’ve all failed.”
"Some of it’s ugly, some of it’s brutal,” Garner said. “There’s lynchings, segregated transportation, segregated housing, lack of access to power and justice. There’s all sorts of issues historically that we all need to look at. But there’s no place – and has not been any place in Pensacola – where we can get that information.”
But renaming the Wentworth and the removal of the Confederate statue are two separate issues, according to UWF’s Rob Overton.
“Apple and oranges to us, that’s city property,” said Overton. “This is something that was pretty cut-and-dry with us once it was revealed that Wentworth was a leader of the local Ku Klux Klan here. That membership and that leadership just does not match up with the values of our museums.”
In a written statement from the board of the former T.T. Wentworth Historical Foundation — made up in part by members of the Wentworth family – it said “We stand against racism in any form, including our founder’s involvement as the leader of the KKK.” It also announced formation of a task force to determine the extent of Wentworth’s activities and the harm that may have been caused."